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‘Troubleshooters’ to help resolve COVID-19 disputes in B.C. school system

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B.C.’s Labour Relations Board will provide neutral “troubleshooters” to help address disputes between teachers and the Ministry of Education over its COVID-19 back-to-school plan.

The troubleshooters, who will be available starting Monday, will be on-call at all times to fact-find and make non-binding recommendations about COVID-19 guidelines and related health and safety issues.

Read more: Coronavirus: B.C. teachers’ union applies to Labour Relations Board over back-to-school concerns

The recommendation came after the B.C. Teachers’ Federation went to the board with concerns about unsafe working conditions.

The board’s ruling does not address a number of teacher concerns, including mask-wearing and class density.

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It also recommends creating a new provincial coordinator position to act as a liaison between the ministry and stakeholders, including teachers, on an existing steering committee.

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“A third party is exactly what we were looking for,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said of the troubleshooters.

Read more: Coronavirus: Teachers’ union urges B.C. to fix ‘inconsistencies’ across school districts

“We think it’s going to improve the health and safety measures as we’re seeing them in schools, and provide a really quick dispute resolution mechanism when we don’t see them in place.”

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In a statement, the Ministry of Education welcomed the troubleshooters and accepted the recommendation for a new coordinator.

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“These roles will enhance existing processes in the education system for addressing challenges, like occupational health and safety teams,” reads the statement.

“Since this pandemic started, we have relied on the advice of the provincial health officer to guide the safe operation of schools, as well as the advice of education partners and stakeholders in our working groups and our steering committee.”

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Read more: B.C. teachers’ union wants more masks, smaller classes in COVID-19 plan

Teachers will continue to advocate for changes to the plan, including a stronger mask mandate, Mooring said.

In the meantime, the ruling will allow them to address what they see as inconsistencies or failures by some districts to adhere to the existing health and safety guidelines in the plan, Mooring added.

“It shouldn’t have taken us going to the labour board to accomplish this, but that’s what we had to do,” she said.

“We intend to use it to the maximum.”

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